the history of jerk

Updated: Aug 15, 2019

Do you know where or when Jerk began? This question has many different answers, however when I hear Jerk my first thought is a set of spices mixed into meat with a variety of other ingredients.


Jerk is a method of cooking native to the Caribbean, where meat is dry rubbed or wet marinated with a mixture of spices.

In Jamaican history it is common knowledge that jerk was started in the mountains by the Maroons. The technique used to preserve the meat was adapted by the Taino/Arawak. Initially the meat used was wild boar or hog.





These were the first settlers after the British invasion into Jamaica in 1655. To be the islands first Jamaican Maroons.

The Maroons were forced to use what they had in their environment by adapting the habitat. By using herbs and spices available to them on the island such as scotch bonnet pepper, which is responsible for the distinctive heat found in Caribbean Jerk.


Techniques used for jerking originated during the seventeenth century and evolved from using pit fires then to the oil barrel halves we use now. The cooking methods rapidly changed including wood burning oven, which enhances the spices throughout the meat and create a smokey crispy exterior to the dish.


Jamaican jerk sauce was mainly developed from the Maroons, by using slow cooked wild hog and grounded seasoning, over a pimento wood oven. This was native to Jamaica at that time and an important ingredient in the taste. It has been modified over the centuries and been influenced by other cultures.





At Cottons we use a variety of spices with dry and wet rub marinade on our meats. For a period of 24 hours, before roasting slowly for a delicate smokey flavor. For our spicier meats we add the red bell scotch bonnet, classed as one of the strongest peppers in the world.


Our famous jerk sauce is slow cooked for a period of 8 hours, giving you that strong flavor that bursts in your mouth.

The range of dishes that include Jerk include; Ebony Wings, Mixed Jerk Platter right down to the marinated vegetables.


Jerk cooking and seasoning have followed the Caribbean diaspora all over the world. Forms of jerk can now be found in the production of dishes in restaurants almost anywhere. A significant population of Caribbean descent exists across the world and bring their authentic traditions of cooking and cultural flare to places, such as the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States or even the French Caribbean.


By Mara Mullings


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